Brexit, Science and Innovation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire 2:14 pm, 6th September 2018

I congratulate Norman Lamb on the Committee’s report and on how helpful it is in informing this discussion.

We cannot underestimate the importance of science to our country. We are the country of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The Government’s recent commitment to increase R&D spending by £4.7 billion by 2020-21 is welcome. The UK is still a destination for science, technology and innovation. Whether it is satellites in Glasgow, batteries in Birmingham or FinTech in London, our constituencies have a fantastic opportunity to contribute to world-changing technologies and science that have an impact here in the United Kingdom and right across the globe.

But there is an opportunity that comes with Brexit, and that is our engagement with the wider world—not to substitute the EU with the wider world, but to be in addition to it. Members across the House have reiterated that we want to continue our scientific and technological co-operation with the EU. There are great examples of investment in this country with the EU and worldwide partners, such as the JET programme, mentioned by Anneliese Dodds, where we are looking ahead to fusion power. Before I reach for my Starfleet uniform, let me say that that is the most exciting new technology. It could revolutionise energy production here in the United Kingdom and around the world, not only providing energy security but helping to defuse a lot of tension in terms of military and governance issues around the world. That project has already contributed so much to European scientific progress and will hopefully continue to contribute to world scientific progress, with the thermonuclear reactor project being constructed in France due to be operational in 2025.

There is a fantastic opportunity for the United Kingdom to not only underscore its commitment to European science projects but leverage in new partners. The University of Stirling, which neighbours my constituency but is making investments in it, has already been meeting partners in the middle east and further afield to look at what joint projects they can work on together post Brexit and what opportunities could be opened up to them.

Immigration has been touched on by various Members. The Government have made a clear commitment to allow skilled personnel into the UK. The report talks about immigration and the ease of verification at the border, which the right hon. Member for North Norfolk mentioned. From my experience on the Public Accounts Committee, where we have looked at customs and border control, I know that it is not just a question of looking at where checks could take place if they were at a border. We should be ambitious in looking at where borders could be. Some of our most successful border schemes have been where we have exported the border to other countries, so that a lot of checks on personnel and goods can take place before they even reach British seas or soil, and it is very clear that all the relevant checks have been made. When they come to a seaport, airport or other port in the United Kingdom, there is then a seamless transition and they can enter our country and hopefully make a fantastic contribution to both science and taxation.

When we talk about science, we are drawn to the sexy projects, such as those with fusion. We talk about the spaceport in Sutherland, and it is fantastic that the first British satellite will be launched from Scotland, but some sectors are not thought about so much. Innovation can happen in the construction sector, such as at Glenalmond Timber in Methven in my constituency, which is working on new manufacturing techniques for prefabricated houses. Diageo has invested more than £7 million in a new technology site in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, in my community, which will help it to develop more advanced blends; I think everyone in the UK and worldwide will appreciate that product.

So what can the Government do? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make clear his commitment to welcoming skilled people to the United Kingdom to contribute but also to exploring what can be done to help universities across the United Kingdom to have meaningful partnerships with partners in the EU and the rest of the world, as well as supporting the Erasmus scheme, to ensure that young people get opportunities in the UK and British citizens get opportunities right across the world. I hope we will be able to contribute to Horizon 2020 and successor schemes, just as Israel does at the moment. It would be good if we had the clarity that has been provided with the £90 million of funding for the British global positioning satellite system. It would also be great to hear from the Government that, although we are making provisions for that system, we are still trying to work with the Europeans on a European and global system, through which we can share the benefits of our expertise in the UK and the expertise of European partners.

Scientific and technological innovation is one of the most exciting topics that we get to deal with in the House of Commons. It touches every single constituent’s life and can have some of the most transformational effects on them. I am very pleased to see the cross-party support for some of the report’s recommendations. I certainly support it as much as I can, and I hope my Government colleagues will do too.